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Wayne Rooney to leave D.C. United for Derby County this winter

The England legend will join the promotion hopefuls in the Championship at the end of the MLS season

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MLS: Chicago Fire at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Wayne Rooney’s time with D.C. United will come to an early end, as it was announced that the former England international announced will join Derby County as a player-coach after the current MLS season ends. After rumors pointed to the possibility of him leaving immediately, it was announced today that the former England striker will stick with United for as long as the Black-and-Red can keep their season going before departing for Derby, who are looking to win promotion from the English Championship.

Details of the deal were not disclosed, but with Rooney’s contract with United lasting until the end of 2021, it is safe to assume that D.C. received a substantial transfer fee in exchange for their biggest star leaving a year early. Rooney’s time here, even with an unlikely run to MLS Cup, would come to an end no later than November 10.

“I remain fully focused on giving my all for the team for the rest of this season and repaying the support shown by the Black-and-Red faithful by hopefully delivering an MLS Cup to Audi Field,” said Rooney via a team release. “While the decision to move home was a tough one, family is everything to us and we make this change to be closer to the ones we love back in England. The opportunity to go back home and start the next step of my career in coaching was the factor that made my mind up. I would like to thank everyone at D.C. United for the incredible support my family and I have received over my two seasons at the club.”

News of the move first began to really gain momentum when The Telegraph reported talks between Rooney and Derby County. The Athletic’s Pablo Maurer was the first to confirm those details stateside, noting that United and Rooney discussed his future during last week’s All-Star Game festivities:

The Washington Post’s Steve Goff had further details, including a note that Derby County chief executive had come to the District to negotiate the deal. Both Maurer and Goff cited sources saying that Rooney’s family would prefer to move back to England.

Burnley and West Bromwich Albion were mentioned as potential competitors for Rooney, who will join Derby, who just yesterday kicked off their 2019-2020 English Championship season with a 2-1 win over Huddersfield Town, in the January transfer window. Rooney will be a part of former Dutch international Phillip Cocu’s coaching staff as well.

For United, the deal is the most notable moment in what appears to be a very busy end to the summer transfer window. The club’s biggest incoming move, an impending deal for striker Ola Kamara (Goff said that deal is being finalized), will certainly mitigate some of what United loses without Rooney going forward, while there are also possibly deals in the works for players like Yamil Asad, Jose Francisco Torres (who had a recent trial with the team), and American defensive midfielder Danny Williams.

Still, Rooney’s early departure may loom over the club, as few players on earth have the sort of cache that he does. From several angles — leadership, experience, ability to sell tickets and merchandise — it’s an unquestionable blow for United. Rooney’s presence revitalized the organization from top to bottom, garnering attention locally and nationally that United hadn’t gotten since the 1990s.

It will be virtually impossible to replace Rooney’s ability to deliver the truly big moments. There are goals, and then there’s his strike against Orlando City earlier this year. And even that didn’t match up with the worldwide sensation that was “The Play,” a 50-yard dash back to make a tackle to prevent a shot on an empty net before then sending a pass in from midfield to create a game-winner deep in stoppage time.

The onus now falls on ownership and GM Dave Kasper to chart a new course for the club. After reaping both the financial benefits of a player as famous as Rooney wearing their shirt, and an improved share of the local sports market’s attention, United will likely think long and hard about trying to lure another global star. However, deals like those are the most difficult moves to get right in MLS, and generally speaking, it takes far more than simply having the willingness to spend some money.